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American Involvement In Canadian Terror Cases Must Be Questioned

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While watching last week's RCMP press conference in the aftermath of Aaron Driver's death, many questions invaded my mind but were left unanswered.

The RCMP's narrative of the events that transpired was repeated over and over in the media with very little questioning.

Mike Cabana -- the deputy commissioner of the RCMP who stood alongside his colleagues in the conference room at the RCMP headquarters, apparently nervous and uncomfortable answering some questions -- is the same Mike Cabana that was involved in the case of Maher Arar.

In 2005, he was cross examined during the commission of inquiry related to the Arar case. During this inquiry it was revealed that Canada had shared information about Maher Arar with the U.S., ultimately leading to his deportation and torture in Syria.

Mike Cabana was never found guilty of any wrongdoing. Instead, he was promoted to become the current deputy commissioner of the RCMP.

This minor observation may appear irrelevant to Aaron Driver's case, but in my humble opinion, it is crucial for understanding how Canadian security institutions perpetuate a lack of accountability.

American agencies -- the FBI, for example -- have a long history of entrapment when dealing with terrorism cases. Why should we trust them?

During the press conference, I was shocked to learn that Aaron Driver was not monitored by the RCMP. How was it possible that someone who had been subject to a peace bond and considered to be one of the most well-known ISIS sympathizers in Canada was left without monitoring?

By contrast, Ottawa resident Mohamed Harkat has been the object of a security certificate due to suspicions that he is an Al-Qaeda sleeper agent for more than a decade. Today, he continues to face the threat of being deported to torture by the Canadian government, and has worn a GPS electronic bracelet for more than six years while living under what amounts to house arrest. All his visitors must report to Canada Borders Services Agency (CBSA) and he must obtain the authorization of the CBSA to leave his house. For years, he couldn't use the Internet or even get near a computer.

The point here is not to justify these restrictions and intrusive monitoring practices, but to posit the question: Why did we use these practices in one case and not the other? Is it because one was a refugee and the other a Canadian citizen? I am not so sure.

Indeed, let's not forget about Hassan Diab, a Canadian citizen and university professor who was the object of an extradition demand by the French authorities for a bombing case in Paris. For years, Hassan Diab had to pay exorbitant amounts for a GPS bracelet as one of his bail conditions. Unfortunately for him and his family, Hassan Diab was extradited and flown to France, where he is sitting in prison waiting for his trial.

What is even more disturbing in the case of Aaron Driver is that the information about his suspicious actions were not discovered by the RCMP, but rather it was the FBI who contacted their Canadian counterparts with Driver's now well-known video.

aaron driver rcmp
Video footage showing Aaron Driver is seen behind RCMP Deputy Commissioner Mike Cabana (left) and Assistant Commissioner Jennifer Strachan during a press conference. (Photo: Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

This is not good news. Not because we are not aware of any cooperation between Canada and their Americans counterparts, but because American agencies -- the FBI, for example -- have a long history of entrapment when dealing with terrorism cases. Why should we trust them?

Many years, ago, a young Canadian man from St. Catharines in Ontario named Mohammed Jabarah was "transferred" by CSIS agents to the United States and later convicted and charged with terrorism.

The late Alan Borovoy, director of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, described Jabarah's "transfer" in these terms:

"It would hardly be in his interests to have gone to the United States -- we know that that it was a hazardous thing for him to do. So the question we have to ask is, why did he decide voluntarily to go to the United States? What produced that? The suspicion this provokes is that somebody may have mishandled him somehow."

Jabarah was suspected by the Americans of being a member of al-Qaida. He was never charged in a Canadian court. Instead, the Americans "brought" him to U.S. soil in order to charge him. He is now serving a life sentence at the infamous supermax prison in Colorado.

So far, there has been no evidence to declare that Jabarah was entrapped by the FBI agents with the complicity of Canadians officials, but it is a hypothesis worthy of investigation.

In a similar case in 2013, Ahmed Abassi, a Tunisian student at Laval University in Quebec City, was on vacation in his home country. He was convinced to travel to the U.S. and reapply for his student visa by an undercover FBI agent, El Noury, who introduced himself as a wealthy real estate businessman from the Middle East. (Abassi's student visa was first issued to him by the Canadian authorities and then suddenly canceled.)

Once in the United States, he was put in a luxurious Manhattan apartment along with Chiheb Esseghaier, another Tunisian student who was later arrested and convicted in the Via rail terror case. The men were talking and talking for days, and among the topics they talked about were U.S. policies in the Middle East and jihad.

Unbeknownst to them, their political conversations were recorded by FBI agents. Ahmed Abassi was later arrested in the U.S. for immigration charges and Chiheb Esseghaier was arrested and sentenced in Canada for life in the Via trail case.

The two men had more ties with Canada than the U.S., and yet it was still American FBI agents who were instrumental in their arrests.

Faced with a history of such behaviour, Leonard Tailleur, the lawyer who represented Aaron Driver for his peace bond, recently raised similar suspicions with the CBC:

"It sounds to me that in a period of five months, or where he's under this peace bond -- for which I was assuming the police were actually surveilling him quite extensively -- that he appears to have been radicalized to a much higher degree."

Aaron Driver died in obscure and tragic circumstances, and we may never know what really happened to him. Nevertheless, asking questions and demanding answers can help us to learn from the past and move forward.

Linking the case of Aaron Driver to the question of radicalization is a simplistic and misleading narrative. Demanding answers about the FBI's role in his death, however, is more crucial than ever.

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